Wai Not

It was just a gesture. But if I didn’t do it, I might offend my classmates. And if I did do it, I might offend God.

Wai Not

Although I am from Kingsley, Western Australia, I recently spent a year in Thailand as an exchange student, and it was there that I gained an appreciation for the scriptures in my life. Before I went there, if I ever had problems or a decision to make, I would go to my parents for their counsel and advice. Suddenly my parents weren’t there to tell me what to do, and for the first time in my life I was really on my own.

I attended a large girls’ school with 4,000 Thai students. Thailand is a Buddhist country, and about 95 percent of the population are of that faith. Being the foreign guest at the school, I was expected to participate in all of the cultural activities and learning experiences. This meant attending meditation and religious classes with the monks and praying to the large Buddha statue at the front entrance to the school. As every girl walked through the gate she was expected to pay her respect to the Buddha. As she did so, teachers standing beside the statue would inspect her uniform, hairstyle, etc.

The school was very strict, and any girl not paying respect to Buddha would be punished. My teacher informed me of this the first day and told me that even though I was Christian, there was no harm in paying respect to Lord Buddha. The continual use of the phrase “paying respect” made it difficult to decide whether or not I should honor this statue. My Buddhist friends insisted they were not worshipping the statue, but remembering their religious leader and the principles he stood for. I had always been taught to respect the beliefs of others, and by paying respect to the Buddha I would be doing this. All it required was for me to wai the statue. To wai is to put your hands together in a prayer-like gesture in front of your chest and bow your head briefly. I figured that if I did wai but did not pray, it would not be classified as worshipping. So I gave the statue a brief wai every morning as I entered the school gates.

After one week I still felt uneasy doing this, so I decided to seek help from the scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 10:14 [1 Cor. 10:14] I read: “Wherefore, my dearly beloved brethren, flee from idolatry.” And in 1 Jn. 5:21 I read, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

These two very short and simple scriptures gave me immediate inspiration. Though my Buddhist classmates were doing something they considered dignified and right, for me to do it would be wrong. I knew without a doubt that I must not give the impression that I was anything other than a Christian. Even though I had great respect for my classmates, their culture, and their religion, I felt I should not wai to the Buddha.

At first my actions were not looked upon favorably, but my teacher soon realized my devotion to the principles of my own religion. It was difficult to continually explain to people why I was not participating in such activities, as past exchange students had done so and were all “Christians.” I knew I was doing the right thing, however, and I would be blessed for it. It also gave me the opportunity to tell others about my religion.

This was just one of many experiences where I was given direct answers to my prayers through the scriptures. The scriptures are true. They are a source of comfort and inspiration in times of sorrow, depression, or uncertainty. And I have learned to love them.

[illustration] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett